Research facility opens first phase

Sixty-four-year-old Overtown resident Joanne Love yells in protest to the grand-opening of the University of Miami’s Life Science and Technology center. Love has been a member of the Power U Center for nine years which (fill in with background of Power U). Love always comes to any event that Power U coordinates and she wasn’t going to miss this protest for the new park next to her home. “What they’re doing is not right. If they’re going to do something, they need do it right,” Love said. Power U along with the UM group STAND has protested against the construction of this park since its initial stages because they claim that the park is taking money away from the impoverished Overtown community instead of giving the area money. Carissa Harris//The Miami Hurricane

The first phase of UM’s Life Science and Technology Park, which has been six years in the making, had its grand opening Tuesday morning.

Three hundred guests from the Miller School of Medicine and other UM communities, as well as local civic leaders, gathered at the ceremony in the 242,000-square-foot facility in Overtown.

“This is a place where education, research and technology intersect with discovery and innovation,” President Donna E. Shalala said during the event. “This is the home of future cures and treatments for some of the most vexing and chronic health problems we face as a nation and in the world. This is an economic incubator with global outreach.”

The building is the first of five potential medical and engineering research spaces that UM plans to build in Miami’s Health District, an area adjacent to the medical campus along Interstate 95.

The park’s labs and offices will centralize the innovative developments by researchers from both UM and around the world. For instance, start-up companies can rent spaces to test the commercial viability of their discoveries. There is already a 60 percent tenant occupancy.

“This spectacular facility will enable us to move research forward into advanced products and treatments that will be brought to patients in South Florida, across the United States and around the world more quickly than ever before,” said Pascal Goldschmidt, senior vice president for medical affairs of UHealth and the Dean of the Miller School of Medicine, during the event.

The park, according to administration, will also build jobs, a contentious problem in Florida, where the unemployment rate is 10.7 percent.

This first phase of the park is intended to create more than 1,150 direct and indirect jobs, with an additional 2,700-plus direct and indirect positions created by ongoing operations, according to a recent study by the Washington Economics Group published in the Miami Herald.

Despite the anticipation for a promising future at the facility, some Overtown residents and UM students have tirelessly protested the project.

“They’re using public money to build this research facility here,” said junior Javier Figueroa, a member of Students Towards A New Democracy (STAND). “I think they should be giving something back to the community.”

About 30 people from activist groups, including STAND, the Overtown Alliance  and PowerU, protested outside the opening ceremony asking the university to negotiate and sign a “Community Benefits Agreement.”

STAND says that the document, which the organization has been asking UM to sign since summer 2009, will help historic Overtown in its struggle with poverty.

Bill Diggs, the president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, supported the protestors democratic right to demonstrate, but feels that the university has done enough to help the community.

“We’ve got black firms that have participated in construction,” he said. “They have worked directly with the leading black organization for economic development in this community to make sure that there is inclusion. They’ve already committed to a program to create jobs for the people living within this area.”